SETI: The Search for Aliens comes up Short?

Will SETI ever find Aliens?

Will SETI ever find Aliens?
Description: Alien attacks the warship Thunderchild
Attribution: Illustration by Henrique Alvim Corrêa for The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (1906 Edition)
Source: Wikimedia Commons
via Wikimedia Commons

SETI’s latest search for aliens has come to a disappointing conclusion. Part of the problem is our own technology. We just aren’t that advanced. SETI is only capable of searching for Type II civilizations, who utilize and channel an energy source equivalent to the sun. So, yeah…there probably aren’t too many of those.

The other problem is even more challenging to overcome. Searching for aliens has always struck me as a long-shot. Sure, the galaxy is vast but so is time. And the odds of our civilization overlapping with a similar one (actually a much more advanced one) on a distant planet have got to be miniscule. Here’s more on the latest SETI search from Ian O’Neill at Discovery News:

In an effort to search for intelligent extraterrestrials, SETI astronomers have completed their first “directed” search. Unfortunately, it turned up no evidence of transmitting aliens. But that’s hardly surprising.

By focusing the Green Bank radio telescope, located in West Virginia, on stars hosting (candidate) exoplanets, it is hoped that one of those star systems may also play host to a sufficiently evolved alien race capable of transmitting radio signals into space. But in a study headed by ex-SETI chief Jill Tarter, the conclusion of this first attempt is blunt: “No signals of extraterrestrial origin were found.”

(See the rest at Discovery News)

Crop Circles: Photographic Proof from 1945?

Greg Jefferys, future crop circles PhD candidate, claims to have found photographic evidence for crop circles in Google Earth’s 1945 overlay. Before you UFO fanatics get too excited, he attributes the circles to natural phenomena, namely ball lightening. Here’s more from The Huffington Post:

Did crop circles exist in 1945?

Did crop circles exist in 1945?
Description: Crop circle in Switzerland
Attribution: Jabberocky
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Crop circles dating back to 1945 are proof the phenomenon is no modern hoax, a Tasmanian historian claims. The mystery of the increasingly intricate patterns was supposedly solved after several high-profile cases were revealed to be the work of artists and mischief-makers armed with barrels, planks of wood and plenty of spare time. Credit for the hoaxes has been laid largely at the feet of pranksters Dave Chorley and Doug Bower, who in 1991 announced they had been pulling the wool over people’s eyes since 1978.

But research by Greg Jefferys has revealed evidence of the strange circles in the English countryside at least 33 years before Chorley and Bower took credit for the phenomena – which until then had been attributed to UFOs and alien activity. Jefferys, who has a degree in archaeology, was prompted to research the matter after reading a report on crop circles in an 1880 edition of the science journal Nature.

The 59-year-old’s research focuses on images from Google Earth’s new 1945 overlay, which Jefferys studied for more than 300 hours. The overlay is a series of photos taken towards the end of World War II by the RAAF and comprises around 35% of the 1945 overlay of England presently available online…

(See the rest at The Huffington Post)

Tweeting…to Aliens?

On August 25, 1977, Dr. Jerry Ehman detected an odd radio signal that appeared to be of alien origin. He circled the signal and wrote “Wow!” next to it. Now, almost 35 years later, mankind is finally preparing a definitive response to the Wow Signal.

The Wow Signal

A copy of the Wow Signal
Attribution: The Ohio State University Radio Observatory and the North American AstroPhysical Observatory (NAAPO)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Replying to the Wow Signal?

National Geographic has a new TV series coming out called Chasing UFOs. The series will feature investigators reexamining old, unexplained alien encounters. As part of the publicity, National Geographic plans to collect all tweets from 8pm EDT on June 29 to 3am EDT on June 30 that are marked with the hashtag #ChasingUFOS. The messages will be rolled into one message and beamed back at the constellation Sagittarius.

We first wrote about the Wow Signal back in February. Simply put, Dr. Ehman recorded the signal while working on a SETI project. It was extremely intense, some 30 times more powerful than ambient radiation. It also appeared to originate from outside the Solar System, specifically from the constellation Sagittarius, close to the Chi Sagittarii star group. However, it was a one-time thing and even Dr. Ehman eventually began to question its suggested origin.

Incidentally, this isn’t mankind’s first attempt to reply to the Wow Signal. But it’s definitely the most complex.

“We are working with Arecibo Observatory to develop the best way to encrypt the transmission. Earlier transmissions have focused on simplicity, whereas this one will rely more on creating a complex but noticeable pattern, hopefully standing out from other random, natural noise.” ~ Kristin Montalbano, Spokeswoman for the National Geographic Channel, Possible Alien Message to Get Reply from Humanity

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, will an alien race receive the transmission? And maybe even respond? It’s impossible to be sure. But just in case, you might want to head over to Twitter on June 29 or June 30 and add your two cents. We’ll see you there!

Life…on Mars?

In 1976, two American space probes, Viking 1 and Viking 2, landed on Mars. After collecting data and performing experiments, scientists decided the planet was lifeless. But now, several scholars are beginning to question that conclusion. Is there life on Mars?

Is there life on Mars?

Is there life on Mars?
Description: Mosaic of Viking 1 Orbiter images of Mars
Attribution: NASA (February 22, 1980)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Is there Life on Mars?

“To paraphrase an old saying, if it looks like a microbe and acts like a microbe, then it probably is a microbe. The presence of circadian rhythmicity and a high degree of mathematical complexity or order in the LR data most likely means Viking discovered microbial life on Mars over 35 years ago.” ~ Joseph Miller, Biologist, University of Southern California

The controversy over the possibility of life on Mars deals with a set of experiments known as Labeled Release (LR). Essentially, nutrients as well as radioactive carbon were added to Martian soil samples. Then researchers monitored the air for radioactive carbon dioxide and methane, which would indicate possible metabolization of the nutrients. Although carbon dioxide initially appeared, subsequent tests were unable to duplicate the results.

But new experiments as well as a statistical reexamination of the original data indicates “considerable support for the conclusion that the Viking LR experiments did, indeed, detect extant microbial life on Mars.” Here’s more on the possibility of finding life on Mars from ScienceBlog:

In 1976, the National Aeronautical Space Agency (NASA) launched the Viking program, sending space probes to Mars to determine whether there was life on the red planet. Thirty-six years later the debate about life on Mars is not over, but research conducted in part at the University of Southern California (USC) offers more proof that life may exist on this neighboring world…

In the experiments, the Viking landers dropped on Mars about 4,000 miles apart, scooped up soil samples and applied a radiolabeled nutrient cocktail to the soil…The active experiments did indicate metabolism…But due to lack of support from two other Viking experiments that did not find any organic molecules in the soil, most scientists believed the LR data had been compromised by a non-biological oxidizing property of Mars soil.

Miller and colleagues did not accept this interpretation, and over the last six years applied measures of mathematical complexity to the data from active and control Viking data, as well as terrestrial biological and non-biological data sets. Not only did the active Viking LR experiments exhibit higher complexity than the control experiments, but the active experiments clearly sorted with terrestrial biological data series whereas the Viking LR control data sorted with known terrestrial non-biological data…

(See ScienceBlog for more on the possibility of Life on Mars)

The “Wow!” Signal?

On August 15, 1977, Dr. Jerry Ehman detected a strange radio signal while working with Ohio State University’s Big Ear radio telescope. The signal lasted for 72 seconds and appeared to be of non-terrestrial origin. Dr. Ehman quickly circled the signal’s markings on a piece of paper and wrote “Wow!” next to it. What was the “Wow!” Signal?

The "Wow!" Signal

A copy of the “Wow!” Signal
Attribution: The Ohio State University Radio Observatory and the North American AstroPhysical Observatory (NAAPO)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

What was the “Wow!” Signal?

Well, the jury is still out on this question. The “Wow!” signal appeared to originate from the constellation Sagittarius, close to the Chi Sagittarii star group. However, despite multiple attempts over the last three decades, no one has been able to re-detect it. Even Dr. Ehman came to doubt the “Wow!” signal was of extraterrestrial origin.

“Even if it were intelligent beings sending a signal, they’d do it far more than once. We should have seen it again when we looked for it 50 times. Something suggests it was an Earth-bound signal that simply got reflected off a piece of space debris.” ~ Dr. Jerry Ehman, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 18, 1994

It should be noted Dr. Ehman later qualified this statement. However, he remains skeptical the “Wow!” signal originated from an extraterrestrial source. While we are no closer to solving the mystery of the “Wow!” Signal, plenty of dedicated researchers are still trying to understand it. Here’s an excerpt from an interesting interview on the “Wow!” signal from The Atlantic with one of those researchers, Robert Gray:

Is it possible that the “Wow!” signal is somehow a computer glitch, or a signal from earth that was reflected off of space debris of some sort?

Gray: Of course it’s possible. It could have been any number of things. However, it almost certainly wasn’t a computer glitch, because it showed this rise and fall of intensity that’s just exactly what a radio source from the sky would look like. Also, the Ohio State radio telescope was cleverly rigged to filter out local stuff.

The only thing that conceivably could have made that special signature is a satellite of some sort at just the right distance, going just the right speed, in order to mimic a celestial object traversing the sky. So that’s a possibility, but it seems pretty unlikely for a number of reasons. First, it would have been seen by a lot of people. Ohio State would have seen it repeatedly, because satellites broadcast repeatedly. Secondly, if it was a secret satellite it would have been pretty stupid to broadcast at a frequency that radio astronomers across the world listen to.

For a long time, Jerry Ehman, who actually scribbled “Wow!” on the original computer printout, considered the possibility that it was a piece of space debris reflecting a signal from the earth back down into the antenna. But he no longer believes that to be the case. And I’m not saying that it definitely was an extraterrestrial broadcast; there’s no proof of that. The best way I can think to analogize this thing is to say that it was a tug on the cosmic fishing line. It doesn’t prove that you have a fish on the line, but it does suggest that you keep your line in the water at that spot…

(See The ‘Wow!’ Signal: One Man’s Search for SETI’s Most Tantalizing Trace of Alien Life for the rest)

The Great Moon Hoax…of 1835?

On August 25, 1835, a strange article appeared in the New York Sun. The piece, attributed to famed astronomer Sir John Herschel, announced a startling discovery…the moon was inhabited by intelligent creatures. The Sun’s circulation increased dramatically and within a couple of days, was the most popular newspaper on the planet. What was the Great Moon Hoax of 1835?

Great Moon Hoax Lithograph

Lithograph from the Great Moon Hoax (1835): “Our plain was of course immediately covered with the ruby front of this mighty amphitheater, its tall figures, leaping cascades, and rugged caverns. As its almost interminable sweep was measured off on the canvass, we frequently saw long lines of some yellow metal hanging from the crevices of the horizontal strata in will net-work, or straight pendant branches. We of course concluded that this was virgin gold, and we had no assay-master to prove to the contrary.”
Source: Wikimedia Commons

What was the Great Moon Hoax?

In 1835, the moon was a source of great mystery. So, when the New York Sun’s headline blared, “Great Astronomical Discoveries Lately Made by Sir John Herschel, L.L.D. F.R.S. &c. At the Cape of Good Hope,” citizens turned their heads.

In total, six articles were published by the Sun, claiming to be supplements to the (non-existent) Edinburgh Journal of Science. Supposedly written by Herschel’s assistant, (the fictitious) Dr. Andrew Grant, the pieces described how Herschel had created a new telescope at his Cape of Good Hope observatory. This miracle of science was capable of 42,000x magnification, more than enough to see small objects in space. The resulting images were then reflected onto the observatory’s walls where they were sketched and described.

The Great Moon Hoax…Life on the Moon?

The articles insisted that Herschel had “discovered planets in other solar systems…firmly established a new theory of cometary phenomena…and…solved or corrected nearly every leading problem of mathematical astronomy.” Despite this impressive list of accomplishments, all of it paled in comparison to the shocking news that Herschel had spotted life on the moon.

After viewing rock, a poppy field, vast forests of yew trees, inland seas, and beaches, Herschel turned his attention to an oval-shaped lunar valley. He reported seeing bison herds and blue unicorns. But the most amazing animals were yet to come. On August 27, readers learned that Herschel had observed signs of intelligent life on the moon. More specifically, he saw a primitive tribe of biped beavers who lived in huts, used fires, and carried their young in their arms. The next day, he reported something even more spectacular…a population of winged humanoids who appeared to live near a golden temple. Herschel and Grant labeled these humanoids “Vespertilio-Homo,” or man-bat.

The man-bats appeared to be engaged in conversations, complete with gestures. While the initial creatures were somewhat primitive, more elaborate man-bats would soon make an appearance. Herschel would later report the existence of a beautiful race of angel-like creatures and a mostly human population of middle class citizens.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The story is now known, of course, as the Great Moon Hoax. Not only had Herschel failed to see any of the sights claimed by the article, he wasn’t even aware of the articles until well after they were published. From all accounts, he was initially amused by the incident but soon grew weary fielding questions about it.

The New York Sun reaped strong benefits from the Great Moon Hoax. Its circulation quickly rose from 15,000 before the series to 19,360 after its conclusion, making the Sun the most popular newspaper in the world at the time. Other newspapers followed suit and soon, the Great Moon Hoax was worldwide.

To this day, it remains unclear whether average citizens were aware of the Great Moon Hoax. At that time, newspapers were known for making up outrageous stories in order to drive sales. Also, it’s important to note that subscribers didn’t cancel their subscriptions once the truth began to emerge. Indeed, the Great Moon Hoax of 1835 became somewhat of a cultural icon for the time, leading to a play at the Bowery Theater among other things. Still, eyewitness accounts from the time make it clear that large numbers of people were fooled by the Great Moon Hoax. For example…

“Yale College was alive with staunch supporters. The literati—students and professors, doctors in divinity and law—and all the rest of the reading community, looked daily for the arrival of the New York mail with unexampled avidity and implicit faith. Have you seen the accounts of Sir John Herschel’s wonderful discoveries? Have you read the Sun? Have you heard the news of the man in the Moon? These were the questions that met you every where. It was the absorbing topic of the day. Nobody expressed or entertained a doubt as to the truth of the story.” ~ Yale Reporter, 1853

So, that leads us to our final question: who was behind the Great Moon Hoax? A reporter named Richard Adams Locke is usually given credit for the articles. However, Locke never admitted his involvement in the Great Moon Hoax and some researchers believe that the French astronomer Jean-Nicolas Nicollet, or Lewis Gaylord Clark, editor of the Knickerbocker Magazine, may have perpetrated it. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know for certain. And unless new evidence comes to light, we may never know the hoaxer’s true identity.

What is the Report from Iron Mountain?

In 1967, Dial Press published a book called Report from Iron Mountain: On the Possibility and Desirability of Peace. It remains one of the most controversial works of all time. Who wrote the Report from Iron Mountain? What does it say? And most importantly…is it real?

The Report from Iron Mountain suggested a fake alien invasion as a credible substitute for war

The Report from Iron Mountain suggested a fake alien invasion as a credible substitute for war
Illustration by Henrique Alvim Corrêa
Source: The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (1906 Edition) via Wikimedia Commons

What is the Report from Iron Mountain?

The Report from Iron Mountain purports to be the findings of a 15-man Special Study Group. It hints that it was commissioned in 1963 by the Department of Defense and was produced by the Hudson Institute, which is located at the base of Iron Mountain in New York. The purpose of the supposed top-secret study was “…to determine, accurately and realistically, the nature of the problems that would confront the United States if and when a condition of ‘permanent peace’ should arrive, and to draft a program for dealing with this contingency.”

The Report from Iron Mountain states that from a historical perspective, war has been the only reliable way for a government to perpetuate itself. Fear of an enemy will cause civilians to accept government intrusion into their lives. Also, war creates loyalty for political leaders. But during times of peace, people begin to turn against taxes and intrusion.

“The war system not only has been essential to the existence of nations as independent political entities, but has been equally indispensable to their stable internal political structure. Without it, no government has ever been able to obtain acquiescence in its ‘legitimacy,’ or right to rule its society. The possibility of war provides the sense of external necessity without which no government can long remain in power. The historical record reveals one instance after another where the failure of a regime to maintain the credibility of a war threat led to its dissolution, by the forces of private interest, of reactions to social injustice, or of other disintegrative elements.” ~ Report from Iron Mountain

The Report from Iron Mountain sought to find a credible substitute for war and considered several ideas such as an alien invasion. However, aliens were ultimately discarded for an “environmental-pollution model.” In passages that are eerily prescient of the current global warming debate, the Report proposes that people would be willing to accept a lower standard of living, higher taxes, and increased governmental intrusion in order to “save Mother Earth.”

Was the Report from Iron Mountain Real?

As you can imagine, the Report from Iron Mountain sent giant waves rippling throughout the world back in 1967. It became a New York Times bestseller and was translated into fifteen languages. Its authenticity quickly came under question, a debate that continues to this day.

On one hand, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it’s an authentic document. In 1967, the U.S. News and World report claimed that the report was real and that it had confirmation to that effect. In 1976, John Kenneth Galbraith (under a pseudonym) wrote in the Washington Post that he had been invited to participate in the Special Study Group.

“As I would put my personal repute behind the authenticity of this document, so would I testify to the validity of its conclusions. My reservation relates only to the wisdom of releasing it to an obviously unconditioned public.” ~ John Kenneth Galbraith

On the other hand, Leonard Lewin, who wrote the original introduction to the book, came forward in 1972 and claimed to be the author. He said that it was meant to be a satire. Supposedly, he got the idea from a New York Timesarticle that discussed how a “peace scare” led to a stock-market sell-off.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, who wrote the Report? In all likelihood, Lewin was indeed the author. In 1990, Liberty Lobby published its own edition, claiming that the study was in the public domain since it was a U.S. government document. Lewin sued for copyright infringement and received an undisclosed settlement.

The bigger question regards its authenticity. Most scholars consider it a hoax. Still, numerous groups continue to believe that the Report from Iron Mountain is genuine and that Lewin only called it a hoax on orders from the United States government. Others would say that whether its authentic or not misses the point. What really matters is that the ideas presented in the document are no longer just ideas…they are rapidly becoming a reality.

Astroforensics: The (New) Search for Alien Life

On August 26, 2011, Professor Paul Davies published a paper in Acta Astronautica entitled, “Footprints of Alien Technology.” In it, he suggests a new approach in the ongoing search for extraterrestrial life. This approach, which he calls astroforensics, consists of police-style forensics techniques…employed right here on Earth.

Paul Davies

Paul Davies
Photographed by Arizona State University / Tom Story
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Who is Paul Davies?

Paul Davies is an interesting guy. He was recently hired by the U.S. National Cancer Institute to help improve America’s extremely disappointing efforts at improving cancer survival rates. But he wasn’t brought in for his background in physics. Rather, he was recruited because he’s a “disruptive agent.”

“True, his naivety sometimes makes biologists grit their teeth. (‘Aaargh! Physicists!’ wrote Paul ‘PZ’ Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota, Morris, in a blog response to Davies’ proposal earlier this year that tumours are a reversion to primitive genetic mechanisms that pre-date the dawn of multicellular life.) ‘But his critics don’t appreciate the value of a disruptive agent,’ says biophysicist Stuart Lindsay, who works closely with Davies at the ASU physics–cancer centre. ‘It takes someone like Paul, constantly nagging, asking disruptive questions, to get people to take a fresh look at their assumptions.'” ~ Physics Meets Cancer: The Disruptor, Nature

Astroforensics: The (New) Search for Alien Life?

He’s also a well-known figure in the search for alien life, having worked with SETI  (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) for over thirty years. Now, he hopes to revamp the way mankind is searching for aliens through the incorporation of forensics techniques. While most people of a similar mindset suggest searching the solar system for large scale evidence such as “orbiting probes, artificial structures on planetary surfaces, and astroengineering projects such as Dyson Spheres,” Davies proposes an all-out search for more subtle traces…right here on earth. In other words, he hopes to encourage scientists across the world to keep an eye open for signs of what might best be described as “palaeocontact.”

“If alien civilizations do, or did, exist, their technology will impact their environment. Some consideration has been given to the detection of large-scale astro-engineering, such as Dyson spheres. However, a very advanced technology might leave more subtle footprints requiring sophisticated scientific methods to uncover. We must not overlook the possibility that alien technology has impacted our immediate astronomical environment, even Earth itself, but probably a very long time ago.” ~ Paul Davies, Footprints of Alien Technology

Davies is not a proponent of the “ancient alien” mania that runs wild today. Instead, he believes that if aliens visited the Earth, they most likely did so prior to the emergence of mankind. Thus, he proposes searching for traces capable of surviving hundreds of millions or even billions of years. Some possibilities include: nuclear waste, scars of large-scale mining or quarrying, a shadow biosphere, or messages left behind in DNA.

The last two options represent especially intriguing possibilities. Aliens might’ve created or accidentally left behind a “shadow biosphere” of life built upon a unique form of biochemistry that we have yet to understand. Also, they might have left behind traces or messages in DNA.

“My proposals aim to spread the burden from a small band of heroic radio astronomers to the entire scientific community. Projects like genomic SETI are an attempt to complement radio SETI, not undermine it.” ~ Dr. Paul Davies

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Paul Davies presents an interesting plan to widen the search for alien life. As we speak, large amounts of data are being collected in various scientific fields. He hopes to convince scientists to use forensic techniques to examine this data for “anomalies.” In its own right, this is a significant act. It’s also brave considering the fact that the very idea of aliens is dismissed by most reputable scientists.

Interestingly enough, Paul Davies doesn’t have an opinion as to whether alien life actually exists. Indeed, he’s known for describing the search as an attempt to find a needle-in-a-haystack “without any clue as to whether there is a needle there at all, or how large the haystack may be.” However, if alien life does exist, one thing is certain…Paul Davies is determined to find it.

Are we Aliens?

The origin of life is a question that has baffled generations of scholars. However, the panspermia theory recently received a gigantic boost from NASA scientists. This theory proposes that life didn’t originate on earth…it came from outer space.

“This radar image of asteroid 2005 YU55 was obtained on Nov. 6, 2011, at 1:45 p.m. PST (4:45 p.m. EST/2145 UTC), when the space rock was at 6.4 lunar distances, which is about 1.5 million miles, or 2.46 million kilometers, from Earth.”
Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

What is Panspermia?

Panspermia is the theory that extremely hardy forms of life, such as bacteria, exist on certain meteors and asteroids. If parts of these space rocks land on a suitable planet, the bacteria become active and begin an evolutionary process. While panspermia doesn’t address the origin of life, it suggests a mechanism for how it may spread throughout the universe.

Although panspermia isn’t a new theory, it’s gained recent attention thanks to the work of Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe. Hoyle and Wickramasinghe also popularized the idea that new diseases and the genetic material needed for macroevolution continue to enter earth’s atmosphere on a regular basis. Still, their theories are generally viewed with skepticism by the scientific community. Now, thanks to NASA scientists, that might change.

New Evidence for Panspermia?

Yesterday, NASA announced that it has found evidence that “certain meteorites can carry DNA components created in space”. Scientists first discovered DNA components on space rocks in the 1960s. However, they were never certain about whether the components came from space or from earth contamination.

The most recent study looked at twelve carbon-rich meteorites, nine of which were found in Antarctica. Researchers discovered adenine and guanine, two of the four nucleobases that comprise DNA, on several of the rocks. In addition, they found three nucleobase analog molecules. The presence of the analogs, which are rarely found on earth, suggests that the nucelobases arrived from outer space and perhaps, were formed there as well.

“You would not expect to see these nucleobase analogs if contamination from terrestrial life was the source, because they’re not used in biology. However, if asteroids are behaving like chemical ‘factories’ cranking out prebiotic material, you would expect them to produce many variants of nucleobases, not just the biological ones, because of the wide variety of ingredients and conditions in each asteroid.” ~ Michael Callahan, Astrobiologist

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

This latest discovery means that the three ingredients for life – nucleobases, amino acids, and amphiphilic compounds – have all been found on meteorites. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that these molecules formed due to chemistry that occurred in space.

“The research gives support to the theory that a “kit” of ready-made parts created in space and delivered to Earth by meteorite and comet impacts assisted the origin of life.” ~ Michael Callahan, Astrobiologist

For centuries, mankind has searched the skies for alien life. Now, it appears that it might have been right here on earth all along.